Why unbundle consulting firms

Ahmed Bousuwa
6 min readApr 22, 2024
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Consulting is never meant to create and innovate.

It’s a service one provides even for wise individuals.

Experts do need advice from time to time.

Consulting or advising someone is offering a better choice.

There is a difference between recommending a better choice and designing one.

Recommendation is based on experience and knowledge. While designing involves conducting work to put together a choice that serves your needs.

That’s why I don’t believe consultancy holds true meaning in solving problems or driving innovation.

In the past, consulting was the highest role one could reach after years of experience in their field.

To form an opinion, you need experience and knowledge.

However, consulting has evolved over time. To address a business challenge effectively, you now need the right design skills.

Skills that differentiate the game

What many don’t recognize is this:

whether you are a consulting firm or a company, there are two main category of skills people can have.

The two are: discovery skills and delivery skills. Few can have both.

For a company to innovate, it has to have both. because creativity is within discovery phase and innovation is within delivery phase.

Creativity informs innovation.

A consultancy must master discovery first in order to deliver a successful project.

Poor discovery is the number one reason a project fails. Many don’t differentiate between discovery and delivery or don’t pay heed to discovery. Each entails a set of activities, processes, and tools.

The difference between traditional consulting and design consulting is the tangible results.

Traditional consulting relies on best practices and industry experts. Relying solely on an industry expert is something from the past.

While design firms rely on methodologies and toolkits, such as design thinking practices.

The foundational approach for designers is to understand impacted users, define the problem, analyze, ideate, create, and validate, and then determine what the solution should be like.

The true meaning of a solution is knowing the capabilities needed to address needs and meet business goals, understanding the risks to avoid, thereby eliminating issues during and post-delivery.

All of this is done in the discovery phase.

Discovery process has two phases:

ambiguity and clarity. As a problem solver, your role is to find out what is holding the company back and determine how to move forward.

Why must discovery be done by designers?

Traditional consulting typically conduct only 10% of the discovery phase, performed in the form of asking questions to capture pain points and quickly move to build solutions (delivery phase).

They fail to provide a designed guide that shows a precise path to the future.

As a result, many problems arise within the project lifecycle and post-delivery, leading to misalignment between stakeholders.

The entire situation turns into chaos, with teams trying to work backward, identifying what they need and redefining scope and requirements.

Projects either fail or go over budget, time, and waste resources. Many of their transformation projects fail, and they often blame the client’s environment for these failures.

According to McKinsey, 70% of digital transformation projects fail to meet the stated goals.

If you rush to build the foundation of a high-rise without proper engineering, the building may collapse either today or at any time in the future.

Why do consulting firms often fail at discovery?

  • Consulting firms often hire the majority of their consultants from MBA graduates, equipped with outdated models in both theory and practice.
  • Assign business analysts and developers to understand the pain points.
  • They still lack mastery of discovery skills and rush to delivery because design is a tool ingrained in the mind, not something to be followed in books.
  • Their consultants work on many projects simultaneously, which impact the quality of discovery work.
  • Delivering what the client wants rather than discovering what the client truly needs has become a detrimental culture ingrained in them for decades — ‘doing what the client wants because they’re paying me.’

Many consultancy firms often find excuses for their failures, blaming their clients for legacy environments or claiming that their staff is not ready for change.

I have observed an objection to discovery because it’s not a cost that can be capitalized.

The result is a broken solution, issues from end to end, requiring more time, cost, and resources to fix what they just delivered — Good luck capitalizing.

Unbundling is win-win for everyone

I see the opportunity to unbundle consulting firms into discovery services and delivery services.

The discovery process requires a designer’s skill set, as they have the ability to design a solution. In order to reach that outcome, time must be spent understanding the problem.

Understanding is an approach-based concept that entails its own process. It’s not merely a matter of asking questions and capturing pain points.

Discovery is where an in-depth holistic view happens, grasping the challenge and its surrounding environment at the granular level.

From understanding struggles, experiences, and communication to surfacing insights, reflecting, and making connections, this is the phase where generating ideas and testing them, validating and iterating take place.

It’s a creative process that leads to the creative building blocks of the solution.

It’s more important than the solution. Coming up with a solution for a problem you have is taking a big risk, assuming the alternative, and removes the room for creation and innovation, especially in the current and coming eras.

Albert Einstein said,

“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.”

What differentiates a designer from a consultant are five key factors

  • Empathy
  • Human-centred approach.
  • Design thinking practise
  • Design toolkits
  • Creativity

Business schools don’t teach that. They teach you numbers, not the artistic way to create numbers. Great work pushes the numbers up.

Discovery is not findings; it’s the outcome of design work. It involves assessing everything holistically and in-depth, surfacing insights, reflecting, making connections, asking questions, and finding opportunities tailored to the needs.

This phase requires a creative system to identify exact needs, prioritize, and innovate.

The outcome will serve as a reference, foundation, and guide; it’s the building blocks of the future state (solution).

To achieve a solution, you need to build its blocks through the design process.

A design work will include:

  • A prioritized list of capabilities or features required to address the needs.
  • Validated capabilities/features with all stakeholders.
  • A roadmap outlining what is needed now, later, and in the future.
  • Risks, barriers, or blockers to consider and avoid post-delivery.
  • A prototype based on the project’s nature to test and align visually.

This is where a designer takes the challenge from ambiguity to clarity, understanding what the solution must be like.

Outcomes of the discovery is a way to help clients and companies to drive innovation. where ideas are tested in discovery phase.

And the work will inform:

  • Timelines
  • Project roadmap and detailed delivery
  • Cost and estimated budget
  • Scope and business requirements

Now, this is where the delivery service comes into play, using the designed guide as a starting point for their work.

It’s similar to an architect and a real estate developer. Architects design a desired map according to needs, location, and regulations for a developer to implement.

This is how both discovery-focused service and delivery-focused service ensure success with zero to minimal issues. They can work together as great partners to meet the needs of many clients.

As a large consulting firm, doing everything on too many fronts can impede the quality of the foundational step, where discovery can be outsourced through trusted partners.

It’s similar to real estate development companies that outsource sub-contractors to execute different pieces of the project.

Discovery process outcomes facilitate the path to the desired future state.

At the end, it’s about helping companies reach their desired future, making them understand the new changes the market is transitioning to.

It’s not just a matter of replacing B with A; it’s more than that.

The art of finding creative solutions is to reach the desired outcome with the least cost of time, money, resources, and issues.

If you have any question or a feedback, reply to this email.

Thanks for reading!

Ahmed

PS PS two things I can help you with:

1. Run a discovery

finding opportunities and designing the blocks of the solution. within any area: transformation, improvement, innovation, strategy, or product.

2. Guiding and advising you

on a project you are working on, need help to set direction to reach desired outcomes

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Ahmed Bousuwa

Design Strategist. Help companies & ventures with complex challenges. Setting direction for strategic initiatives & desired goals. neostrateje.com